Food Fads

Diet 1899
Not to be taken literally, 1899.


The history of food fads and diet was designed to introduce students to the history of nutrition and health.  This lesson was balanced between encouraging the students to build on their own knowledge while also teaching them about the impact of diet and the role food has played in history.  For the most recent version of this lesson, historical expertise in the classroom was provided by Dr Elsa Richardson.

Dangerous Drugs was written and designed originally with guidance from Professor Matt Smith, from the University of Strathclyde.  The lesson was written to introduce new words such as ‘Fletcherising’ and expand on well-known but not always well-understood concepts such as ‘healthy diet’, ‘calories’ and nutrition.

Food Fads: Lesson Presentation
Engagement and Practice:

The lesson was divided between presentation style teaching, group work and an exercise where the students were able to try to ‘flecterise’ for themselves.   This was designed to include pupils as much as possible, through direct group work, question and answer / fill in the blanks sessions and summary sections.


  • Introduction of subject and staff
  • Open class questions ‘What is a Fad Diet / Can you name a Diet?’ Lead conversation to health and body image in modern society/history.
  • Short teaching section – Healthy diet (this session is broken up into impromptu open question and answer sessions) and the history of Vegetarianism.
  • Primary Source Activity – Group source analysis and answer session from the worksheets based on 19th-century competition between meat based and meat-free diets.
  • Teaching section on Flecherism
  • Class exercise – using crackers pupils count how many times they can chew
  • Primary Source Activity – Fletcher at West Point activity – based on the use of the Fletcher diet on military cadets and testing of their fitness
  • Informal sum up and questions
  • Conclusion


Both Source Analysis exercises used the same sheet:

1. A source analysis sheet for reference to the media section of the lesson encourages pupils to consider the importance of content, context, bias and usefulness of source materials.

Fletcher at West Point Source

Animal or Vegetable Food Source

Source Analysis Worksheet

Personal Account

Most recently Dr Elsa Richardson has contributed to the delivery and content of this lesson.

Dr Richardson notes that the lesson drew from classes taught in the history of medicine taught at undergraduate level, but was adapted for a new audience. ‘Without oversimplifying the topic, which covered the history of food and nutrition, I identified a number of key facts and interesting examples that could be communicated easily. In terms of my teaching style, I found myself asking the pupils more questions that I would university students, as a way of keeping them engaged with and excited by the lesson.’


Dr Richardson explains, ‘the experience as a whole was wonderful, I especially enjoyed hearing from the pupils who brought fresh eyes to the topic and who prompted me to think differently about certain aspects. I loved the challenge of having to really clarify my arguments, an academic skill which is useful outside of the classroom setting!’


Dr Richardson makes the following suggestions for this lesson to be delivered in the future.  ‘The lesson overall went well, but I think the pupils struggled to get through two primary source tasks in the time allowed and as such this aspect felt rather rushed. Next time I would set only one primary source task to allow them more time to discuss in small groups and feedback to the rest of the class.
Overall, the food fad lesson tends to be one of the most popular among pupils.  The topic is interesting and approachable and pupils enjoyed the practical exercises.

Rather than two source analysis exercises, Dr Richardson suggests including another media format such as YouTube to show a cooking programme focused on diet or historical adverts for food products complete with an accompanying worksheet.

The history of food continues to be very important and this lesson is a crucial part of the programme. It is often the lesson that students remember most positively.
Please feel free to access the attached resources for this lesson.  All of the images and information is strictly provided for a non-commercial / education purposes.